Rides on La Crosse buses are free from Monday to Saturday this week, part of Transit Equity Days, a celebration centered on Rosa Parks’ birthday, Feb. 4, emphasizing access to public transportation as a civil right.
Rides on Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit buses, which run to Prairie du Chien, Viroqua and Tomah, will be free on Wednesday.
A news conference with Mayor Mitch Reynolds and local transit advocates at 1 p.m. Monday at Grand River Station will kick off a week of events oriented around public transit and its connections to issues including socioeconomic inequality, climate change, accessibility and labor.
Susan Gaeddert, community program director with 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, an environmental and land use advocacy group, will lead a program titled “Transit Equity and Climate Action” on Tuesday online at 7 p.m.
MTU Transit Manager Adam Lorentz and La Crosse Area Planning Committee Executive Director Peter Fletcher will speak online Wednesday at 2 p.m. about the MTU and SMRT bus systems.
Throughout the week, local elected officials from La Crosse and Onalaska will ride the bus for one hour shifts to talk with drivers and riders.
A schedule for elected officials’ bus “office hours” and registration links for the online presentations can be found at LaCrosseTransitAdvocates.org.
The website also includes links for passengers to thank local transit employees and to share their experiences riding local public transportation.
A display at the public library will showcase information and books about transportation equity, climate change and the history of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. A display at the Grand River Station highlights La Crosse historian Terry Hicks’ history of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 519 and other labor organizations.
In addition to this week’s events, the La Crosse Area Transit Advocates regularly pairs new riders with experienced passenger through a buddy program. Interested residents can email LaCrosseTransitAdvocates@protonmail.com or call 608-315-2693 to participate.
“We’d like to get people to try the bus if they haven’t,” said Cathy Van Maren, member of La Crosse Area Transit Advocates. “I think a compelling reason is to take climate action, but it could be you’re interesting in taking the bus because of driving in the snow and slush and finding a parking space.”
The La Crosse Area Transit Advocates also shared several statistics regarding access to cars, road safety and carbon emissions.
“What do we subsidize? Parking for private cars or public transportation or bicycle infrastructure?” said Van Maren. “How do we expect people to get places, and how do we build our cities so they can get places?”
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the city of La Crosse’s population over the age of 15 are not drivers, meaning they do not hold a drivers license or do not own a vehicle per Department of Motor Vehicle records.
According to a White House fact sheet published in 2021, Wisconsin residents who rely on public transportation spend over 60 percent more time commuting, and non-White households in the state are nearly six times more likely to use public transportation.
The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimates the average yearly cost to own a car in 2022 was nearly $11,000.
The La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility last year provided nearly 760,000 rides on fixed routes and over 18,000 rides through the paratransit service for passengers who cannot access regular bus routes due to disability.
The SMRT bus system provided over 18,000 rides and the Onalaska/Holmen/West Salem Public Transit Taxi provided over 48,000 rides last year.
All three systems saw increased use from last year.https://lacrossetribune.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/la-crosse-kicks-off-week-dedicated-to-transit-equity/article_51bc4e1a-9e7e-11ed-be8c-bfcce64f24d0.html